Co-op skills add to Michigan 1st Response

Jul 22, 2004

Two co-op students, both eager to learn and willing to work, are adding to the skills at a West Michigan firm that builds customized fire and rescue vehicles.

There's a business in West Michigan on a sloping, gravel road, where a canopy of maples, elm and beech trees create a scenic thoroughfare. When travelers turn at the white picket fence, they enter a place where co-op jobs are materializing.

That is the lucky happenstance for Kettering co-op students Beau Jewell and Tyler Boggs.

Jewell, a freshman from Cedar Springs, Mich., and Boggs, a sophomore from Ada, Mich., are co-op students at Michigan First Response, a specialized ambulance dealership that builds customized fire and rescue vehicles. The two students alternate co-op terms so one of them is always on the job with staff members Mark Grossbauer and Scott Schalow.

"Both Ty and Beau are integral to our business," said Grossbauer, who owns the company. "They make a serious contribution on a day-to-day basis. I had worked with Kettering co-ops when I was at Detroit Diesel. I knew about the opportunity and contributions this experience can provide." Grossbauer recently introduced co-op students into his small firm after participating in Kettering's annual West Michigan interview fair in Grand Rapids. Jewell also attended that job fair as part of his decision-making process in selecting a college. Employer and student looked each over and determined there was a mutual good fit.

"You get in the groove quickly, you have to," Jewell explained. "Sometimes its hectic and the job feels soooooo big." Like the time when Grossbauer and Schalow sent the youthful worker into the shop to measure for and then cut a hole in a $40,000 vehicle so a specialty attachment could be added. "Remember," Grossbauer explained, "you're cutting a hole in a $40,000 vehicle. It can be very intimidating."

"Yeah, tell me about it," Jewell quipped. "You know how they say measure twice and cut once -- I measured 40 times. It's fulfilling, though, because all our work is one-of-a-kind and original. This is a job you can really be proud of," he added.

Boggs got his co-op job through a Detroit Diesel contact. "I like my co-op a lot and it gives me a chance to work on the stuff I was doing prior to Kettering," he said. " I'm going to school for powertrain - Mechanical Engineering. I've got a '69 Firebird I started working on at 14 and realized I wanted to go into engines and transmissions. Some of the wiring and other work I do here is perfect for that."

"The best part to watch," Schalow noted, "is the students never say 'I can't' do that. This is truly a hands-on job. Both Tyler and Beau are above average in intelligence, which is exactly what we needed because we don't do anything run-of-the-mill in this shop. And they rise to the occasion all the time. Sometimes we throw things at these boys on purpose," he said, smiling.

"And sometimes," Jewell added, "it's hard to explain to your friends that building a pizza and one-of-a-kind vehicle are very different."

Currently the staff of Michigan First Response is working on a $500,000 Incident Command Vehicle (ICV) for Flint and Genesee County. The specialized vehicle is more than 40 feet long with three slide-out options. It is equipped with sirens, flashers and modern communication devices, which will serve as a command station when emergency crews are called to big structure fires, major accidents, terrorist or hostage incidents, or a large chemical spill. The Incident Command Vehicle will house the commanding officers from the various emergency, fire, police, environmental, governmental and SWAT agencies that have crews at the disaster scene. The vehicle will provide office space, phone lines and a variety of technology supports for up to a dozen officers. The staff expects to deliver the command vehicle to Genesee County in September.

"Building things to the customer's standards is where we really shine," Grossbauer said. "Creating a custom model is a great niche for us and these students help us with that. They are important problem solvers for us."

For example, Boggs designed and made a bracket for an engine-mounted generator for a GMC '04" Yukon. "It was never done before," Schalow said. "He did a cardboard mockup, got the steel and welded it. I was proud of him. We bring students into the shop and then see if they're a donkey or a racehorse, it's really nice to see them flourish," he added.

Boggs concluded by offering a message to other potential co-op employers: "Kettering students have new ideas, knowledge of new technology and computer systems and a more advantageous way of doing things. We're eager to learn and willing to work, and can provide an intelligent person coming to work for you. It's perfect for a small business," he added.

Michigan First Response recently moved from Fenwick, Mich., to Greenville, Mich. For more on the company, call (616) 225-3600 or visit:

Written by Patricia Mroczek
(810) 762-9533